Dominique Moceanu Interview on the "Dark Side" of gymnastics

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Jul 12, 2007
Here is a couple of news articles that talk about Dominique Moceanu's interview with Bryant Gumbel that is supposed to air tomorrow night on HBO. She talks about how tough it is to become an elite gymnast, and how her and many other gymnast athletes want the Karolyi's ousted from their positions.

Gymnastics always good for drama | Olympics blog | Los Angeles Times

Moceanu: Gymnastics Has 'Dark Side' - Sports News Story - KRXI Reno

Chris' Sports Angle: A Dark Side to Women's Gymnastics

Airing Schedule:

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Ok. I understand that things happen in this sport of ours, but it has also gotten so much better(think to when Little Girls In Pretty Boxes was first written). I honestly think gymnastics is such an easy target-the pure physics of it makes young girls better at it-the smaller a mass, the easier it is to manipulate. It's also a sport I believe people are often interested in, but is confusing enough so that not a lot of people fully understand it. Also, it is the choice of these girls to participate in it-they really love what they do, otherwise they'd just say enough is enough. I was disappointed in how they almost attacked the selection process. The Olympics will have girls competing in many qualifications and finals in a short time period; we don't want to see them crack because they are unaccustomed to the high-pressure situations. The over-use injury comment was icing on the cake for someone like myself, who also follows intensely with track and field. Tyson Gay, world champion in the 200m will not be competing the event in the Olympics because of a hamstring sprain from doing too much in too short of a time, but no one said much about that. It was disappointing as well to see Jennifer Sey's book credited so often, as her content has been deemed questionable; her story did not match up with those of other girls who had trained with her.

Sorry I bounced around so much; I had a lot of points to get out there.
Jul 12, 2007
Don't have HBO, so I had to catch the interview on you tube. Pretty much another gymnastic lynching:rolleyes: by one of my favorite gymnasts (really too bad). My biggest questions to her would be, why blame the coach? - your parents SHIPPED you off to train at a young age - not the coaches. They just did what they were payed to do. 2nd question - if it was so horrible, why oh why even ATTEMPT a comeback? Would she feel this way if they had accepted her petition? She just comes off as slighted to me. Too bad, I really lost some respect in the few minutes of the interview... She mentioned that she would not have her own dd train gymnastics without any changes. I doubt it, no doubt, she already has bought leotards for that little girl and is just waiting until she can put her in her 1st class. I betcha! Her excuse will be, expected changes (hello, of course, doubt the karolyis will be in their position in 15 yrs).

Good for Chellsie to not be a teen and show that she can make her own choices and sacrifices for making her own dreams come true. I thought she came off as sincere and mature. Not everyone can be in her position, and yes sacrifices are required.

And as for the lipstick comment at the end, come on - the little girls were probably on TV for the very 1st time... that was just a ridiculous, pointless, uneccesary comment.

Part 1

YouTube - Real Sports - Inside Women's Gymnastics (Part 1)

Part 2

YouTube - Real Sports - Inside Women's Gymnastics (Part 2)
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Just my 2 cents here - but I think the thing with both Jennifer Sey and Dominique Moceanu is why I am glad my dd will never be an elite. I am not talking about the harshness they talk about - I mean the complete loss they both must feel now that they are no longer gymnasts. I've often wondered about some of these elite gymnasts, who for as long as they can remember, their life is gymnastics. What happens when they are done - the major part of their identity is also done with it. Unfortunately these girls are apparently very bitter about it. I can't say I blame them though. I do think gymnastics on the elite level should have more balance not just for the physical health of the child, but also the mental health, IMHO.

Granny Smith

Proud Parent
Jun 21, 2007
I watched the segment last night on Real Sports and I feel that any sport on the equivalent level of Elite gymnastics is extreme and requires many sacrifices. Is this something I would want for my own child, no way, but can somewhat understand why some do.

I do think it is a little strange that Chellsie can say on camera giggling that eating a piece of fruit for breakfast, a piece of chicken with fruit for lunch and more fruit for dinner is acceptable. That is barely acceptable for a child who does no activity what-so-ever. These are girls who work out for hours and burn hundreds of calories a day. Where are the veggies??? How about a glass of milk? I can see eating a sensible diet, but I do not agree with Chellsie that her diet is sensible - JMHO. Granted, at 20 she is a woman and needs to be more careful of what she intakes, but in the long run I do not believe she is doing her body any favors.

Also, I just want to say that I think that Women's gymnastics is critized because it is essentially girls, not adults. A girl on the Olympic team probably averages around the age of 17/18. As was stressed at the end of the segment, if they are 17/18, they have been training at such a high level for years all while their bodies are growing. I think those who voice negative opinions are concerned for the welfare of these girls and their bodies.

I will also admit that some are taking a few jabs at the Karolyis too. I really don't think that if the Karolyis left the sport at the Elite level that it would change the way things work. There will always be the few who diet to extreme, use laxatives and will go to any extreme level to try to achieve their dreams.

Funny how these stories always pop up during an Olympic year. Although overall the segment was negative, my dd will continue to chug along in JO gymnastics and let the chips fall where they may. She is running the marathon and is happy being a part of it. I think stories like these make us better parents. We are well aware of what can happen and as parents it is our responsibility to keep gymnastics a positive experience for our children.


I immediately thought it was odd that the 2 people in charge of training the team are married to one another. I certainly won't say that it is the cause of any problems. But it certainly eliminates some "checks and balances" when it comes to preventing abuses. If one saw the other do something wrong and they weren't married, there would be nothing holding them back from saying something or reporting it. But since they are married and will support each other no matter what, it seems that it is easier for stuff to get "swept under the rug".

Now would the team be better off without the Karolyi's in charge? I don't know. Many say that the Karolyi's are doing something right if they've produced so many Olympic medalists. But then there is the age old question, "Do the ends justify the means?"

The more and more I hear about what being an elite athlete though, the less and less I find myself wanting to be one. Some of the sacrifices seem a little bit too big, especially when kids are putting sports above school or when families get split up so one kid can train thousands of miles away from home. Competing through the J.O. levels would be good enough for me.
May 26, 2008
I personally thought it was a great interview and see things very differently than many of you.

Dom didn't say she didn't want her daughter to do gymnastics. She has said many times that she does want her to and that she got so many things from the sport. That comment was edited.

I agree with her about the selection process for the Olympic Team. Athletes can't be expected to perform at their peak week after week. There is no reason that Alicia and Chellsie shouldn't have been named to the team at Trials. The goal is to be at your best at the Olympics right? Not now. It was obvious they belonged on the team and the team would be screwed without them. Why not name them to the team so they could go home and pace their training to be at their very best when the Olympics start? Both girls have proven without a doubt that they can perform under pressure. I can see leaving the last two spots open and naming those later.

I have no doubt that the Bela and Marta were abusive to their gymnasts. You hear about it in the media and everyone sort of brushes it under the rug by saying the person is bitter etc. I have talked personally to several people who have not spoken out publically and they support these claims. They all just laugh it off as being necessary to reach the Olympic level. I don't think it's necessary. There is a difference between being a hard coach with high expectations and being an abusive coach.

I actually don't even consider Bela and Marta to have been that successful. Sure they had Nadia and Mary Lou. Kim didn't do so hot at the 92 Olympics. If they are such great coaches what happenned to her? Oh yeah I forgot she was injured. Overtrained much? Then there is Dom. She was going to be the next big thing at the 96 Olympics and once again she was injured. Again it was an overuse injury. Kerri Strug would be virtually unknown if she hadn't gotten hurt. No individual medals for her either. Only 2 of the Mag 7 were coached by Bela and Marta. The individual medal winners at 92, 96 Olympics were all coached by someone else. Yet somehow Bela and Marta are treated like the did everything for USA gymnastics. Dom is right about there being plenty of great coaches in the United States. USA gymnastics has been successful lately because of these coaches.
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I guess my 2 cents would be that everyone made choices. Dominique's parents chose to send her to the Karolyis and Dominique chose to pursue gymnastics. Maybe she didn't feel like she had any control but, as most of us parents know, by the time a kid is 12 or 13 or 14, they can be quite vocal about what they will and won't do. And that applied to Jennifer Sey, too. If it was so horrible, someone should have said no, I don't want to do this anymore.
Mar 5, 2008
North America
I too thought that it was very interesting that this piece came out in an Olympic year, and also Jennifer Sey's book as well. Sounds like a little bit of controversial hype to me.

Anyway, I agree with Granny Smith's comment about Chellsie giggling regarding eating fruit for dinner. It was almost as if Chellsie knew it was absurd to eat like that, and she knew it was wrong, but she didn't want to say anthing or speak out about it. The giggling was her subconscious way of dealing with the internal dilema of knowing right from wrong (the pyschologist coming out in me). Exactly--why couldn't she have had a salad and milk for dinner, or cereal and fruit for breakfast?? It's so ironic because, these athletes and coaches wonder why these kids are getting injured, yet they are barely eating enough to sustain a regular kid's energy needs who doesn't exercise 6 hrs a day.

The thing that gets me is, if Dominique had such strong feelings against the Karoli's that she had been holding on to for all these years, why did she wait so long to come out about it? In 2006 she tried to make a comeback and her petition was rejected, so if her feelings were hurt by their decision and she wanted to punish the Karoli's by speaking out against them, why didn't she just say something in 2006 or 2007 about it? Why wait until NOW 3 weeks before the 2008 Olympics??? Seems too calculated to me.

I also agree with ellabella in that many other coaches have produced olympic and world champions besides the Karolyis. Look at Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, and Carly Patterson to name a few.

I often wonder if the fact that Bela and Marta being Romanian has a lot to do with their coaching style. I know that Russian coaches tend to be very strict (and abusive at times)and that is just how they coach and have learned to coach. When my dd first started gymnastics/cheerleading we were at a Russian coached gym and I did see a lot of this strict discipline. To be honest, some of the coaching style was verbally and emotionally abusive. I am no longer at that gym for those obvious reasons. But that was the Russian way of coaching--it worked for some kids but not others. I know that sounds terrible, but some kids can take the harsh criticism and it doesn't phase them and continue to be motivated and seem to thrive in that environment and other kids are just too sensitive and end up shutting down emotionally. I am in no way defending that type of behavior or coaching, I am just saying that some people don't know of any other way to coach or communicate to kids other than what they were taught. It is very sad if you think about it...
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Jul 21, 2007
I'm also not agreeing with most of the people posting here on this topic. I am tending to agree with Ellabella.

Dominique is finally stepping out and saying what should have been said a long time ago. And she may actually be one of the first people that can make a difference, one because she speaks so well and two because of what she has achieved.

I know there may not be so many people backing her up with many of the things that happened at the Karolyi's gym. If I were Kim Zmeskal I would not either considering she doesn't want to get on Marthas and Bela's bad side when trying to get her gymnasts to the top. Although Kim didn't need to probably go against it either. Dominique Dawes also isn't going to be able to agree with Moceanu because I mean Kelli Hill is probably the most caring elite coach out there.

If anyone read the actual Interview and not just watched the youtube video, it shows that Dominique had a lot more to say than what was shown and that she did want her daughter to do gymnastics because she loves the sport and thinks it's great. She only stated that she didn't want her daughter to do elite gymnastics if the current system did not change.

The point is... Dominique is finally coming out and not worrying about what people think of her, although I know of a few hundred people that completly support her.. and she is doing this for the athletes best interest. There are better ways of training elite gymnasts, and until they stop showing results or more people confront it is a problem then nothing will change.

Chellsie's diet is a bit worrisome because she is training so much and barely eating. I train the same amount of hours each day and if I ate that little and my coach found out he would definently change that and would watch what I ate. The fact that she admits this nationally is what worries me, I mean her coach is her own Dad. How could he let her do that? I hope she gets her eating habits back in check after the games.


I am in support of Dominique. After watching the video, I did feel like it was just another slam to the sport, similar to Jennifer's book and the old school "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes." After checking Dom's website, however, she had posted a link to her interview. She stresses there and on her blog how it was the Olympic Team selection process that really got to her. She had reported on her blog right after the Trials that Alicia should have been named then and there.
What I think she is really trying to say is that one person should not run the whole sport for one country. In 96, the only team to ever win the Olympic gold, it was top 7 finishers. Yes, Shannon and Dom were injured, but it was nothing like the process this year. Dom is just stating that perhaps the team should be chosen sooner so that the athletes and coaches are not over stressed and over worked, pushing themselves to the limits BEFORE the Games.
There is good and bad in the sport, we all know that. We have coaches that do things in the gym that they would not do if the parents were there, or, rather, parents who would say something about it. I just think a lot of the former athletes that are still involved with the sport don't want to rile up anyone, especially Marta, when, as of right now, Olympic dreams are decided by her and no one else.
May 26, 2008
I think it makes perfect sense why Dom is speaking out right now. The general public doesn't care about gymnastics other than during the Olympics. Nobody would be interested in hearing her speak excpet right now. If change is what she wants now is the time to get the ball rolling.

I also think it has a lot to do with having had her own child recently. All of you mothers out there know how it changes you when you have your first child. You start looking at other people's children in a different way. They are someone's baby. You really start wearing your heart on your sleeve. I truly believe that Dom feels for these girls. She knows what it's like and she hurts for them.

Do we even have to ask why Dom wasn't complaining in 2006 when she was trying to make a comeback? She's not stupid. You don't speak out against the system if you are trying to make an Olympic team. She was training on her own terms and I'm sure she could have survived the camp system if she had needed to.

I also don't buy the argument that Dom could have gotten out if she wanted to. Remember that she was a child. She wanted to be an Olympic champion and all of this hype had been built up around Bela and Marta. Even if she was unhappy she wanted to meet her goals. Her parents were heavily invested. At 14 I would have taken it too. That doesn't mean she can't look back and see how wrong it was. She probably felt at the time that she was doing what was needed to reach her goals. She's now old enough and has had enough experience to realize that it's not the only way.

I'm always so surprised when people discredit these abuse stories. It happens even in JO. Coaches get super sized egos and they want to control everything. Bela has the most super-sized ego of anyone. He puts on the biggest show, but is a different person behind closed doors. Anyone who knows Bela will tell you that.

I for one am glad that Dom is speaking out. Some of you may have children some day that are Elite gymnasts vying for Olympic spots. Don't you want your child to be treated with respect and fairness? Gymnastics is a hard enough sport without the athletes being treated the way they are.
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Jul 12, 2007
I also read the interview, and it only seemed to back up what I said. I don't doubt that what she is saying is not true. I was not there, and have never been through an experience like hers so I just can't possibly know her trials and tribulations. I feel for her experiences deeply. BUT, Where were her parents? I am the parent of a 15 yr old and a 13 yr old, and I can't imagine not being 150% involved in what is going on in their lives right now.

This is all very interesting to me. I am glad that she is sharing her story - the same story that seems to be told again and again by a book, or movie, or a former athlete. My problems with Dom is that she is - a gymnastics icon with so many gymnasts looking up to her - why would feel the need to go about it this way? Bashing and criticizing is not the only way to handle it. There is a right way and a wrong way. There is nothing mature about what she is doing. She has no business sharing Kim's personal/private story to try and validate her own! All of this talk is wasted to me, if they feel this strongly, do something positive about it. All this seems to do is make parents & gymnasts quiver at the word "elite".

As for the dieting issue (fruits and protein) maybe this type of diet is what is recommended for an Olympic gymnasts optimal perfomance. There has to be some way to maintain muscle while staying lean. Yet, still allowing yourself to perform in an anaerobic sport that requires bursts of power rather then endurance. I am sure the gymnast needs to find the right balance that works with their body type.
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I know someone who was on the national team with Kim back in the 90's who stated they were basically on diet pills, vitamins, and water. It's been frequently said many elites are on 900 calories a day which doesn't even cover the amount of energy they burn in 2 workouts per day besides their base metabolic rate for their body to maintain what it is.

There is something to be said about cutting down water weight, but you have to be extremely careful about this, especially females IMO. This is a bit easier with males I think, but even at extremely low body fat and hydration you are basically between surviving and collapsing. There is a reason, wrestlers and boxers hydrate and replenish right after weigh in. They may be able to function basically down to that level, but not function well at all.


Coach/Proud Parent
Proud Parent
Jun 11, 2008
IT comes down to the parents!!. Know your daughter, her coaches and whats going on in the gym. The elite level is not for everyone. Bela refused to accept Dom at a young age and her parents brought her back a few years later.. She seems to have many issues. Isnt she estranged from her parents after her comeback attempt?? I agree with those saying why wait till now to air her feelings and I applaud Marta for her response. I ,too am sad for her
Aug 3, 2007
As a parent, I've been there, and we all get sucked into this sport from the first moment our little girls step up on the podium. We support our gymies, guide them through the training, and yes, we give coaches more control then we probably should. I have a daughter still in the sport and one that is not, so I can look back through the years and clearly see what choices I made that I should not have. And yes, we as parents make the decisions, because children are not mature enough to make them no matter how much fun something seems to be. Dominique is in a position (as someone mentioned, having her own child now) that she can look back with her 20/20 far sight and see the system for what it is, and what it did to her. I completely agree with what she said and respect her for speaking out, especially now that the public is listening; sadly enough, because it's an Olympic year. She did not take any stabs at anyone in particular, but only at their training methods, which DO NEED TO BE CHANGED. No one can argue about the fact that elite gymnasts do not eat enough and they consistently train while injured. That is not good for anyone, yet it happens in the sport of gymnastics. Sure, some of these egotistic coaches have produced successful elite gymnasts, but for every one success story, there are at least 20 tragic tales of girls that have worked hard all their lives and have quit becaue of verbal abuse, didn't make the cut, or ended up too injured to continue.
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It may not have been the wisest decision to expose stories of Kim Zmeskal. Stories of abuse aside, do you guys agree with the current process of choosing the teams? Do any of the other sports have the same process in the US?

I think that in an already subjective sport, to add a selection process which includes no scoring to the judging system, what feel of control do the young ladies feel that they have? I wonder in years to come if we will hear from some of the ones left off the team this year.
Sep 8, 2007
I agree with ellabella's last comments and read the interview.This girl was only 10 when she started training whith Bela and Martha pushed in by her father read this article EVEN AT AGE 13, A STORYBOOK CAREER IS EMERGING (NEW YORK TIMES)

If Dominique Moceanu were to win the 1996 Olympic all-around title, it would only be fitting -- the perfect conclusion to a best seller. The rest of the ingredients are already there -- the Romanian immigrant parents, themselves former gymnasts; their determination that their daughter should follow in their footsteps; the family's move to Houston, when Dominique was 9, just so she could train under the legendary coach Bela Karolyi, and, of course, Dominique herself, whose personality and charm make one believe she was born to be a star.
This year, Moceanu, the 1994 United States junior national champion, stepped up to the big leagues. Now a senior, the 13-year-old has competed successfully against the likes of Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes, who were favored as competition got under way tonight at the United States National Championships in the Superdome.
The 18-year-old Miller squeezed by Moceanu by .150 points -- 39.275 to 39.125 -- in the compulsory round tonight, as both gymnasts performed solidly.
They were followed by Jaycie Phelps of Cincinnati at 38.975, the 1992 Olympian Kerri Strug at 38.70 and Amanda Borden at 38.675. Dawes, a 1992 Olympian and last year's national champion, had three wobbles on the beam and finished sixth with 38.550.
Moceanu's success comes as no surprise to her father, Dumitru, 40, and mother, Camelia, 34, who were themselves gymnasts in their native Romania. Even before the couple immigrated to the United States in 1980 and settled in California, the father had vowed that his first child would be a gymnast.
"If not a gymnast, then something else, but an athlete," he said. "I wanted her to have the discipline."
After Dominique was born in 1981 -- in Hollywood -- Moceanu kept his word. When his daughter was 3, he would test her strength by seeing how long she could hang from a clothesline.
"The line broke before she let go," he said.
Moceanu, convinced he had something, called Karolyi in Houston and asked if he would take Dominique as a student. Karolyi, the former national coach in Romania, who had defected to the United States years earlier, refused, saying she was too young, and Dominique's parents enrolled her in a gym elsewhere. Moceanu called Karolyi again in 1990, and soon after moved his family to Houston. Within a year, Dominique became the youngest gymnast ever to be named to the junior national team.
Camelia Moceanu said much of her daughter's success can be attributed to Karolyi.
"Everything you do, if you want to reach perfection, you have to work hard," she said. "He makes her give 100 percent every day."
According to Karolyi, Moceanu has the makings of a star.
"Her physical capabilities are great, and she has the ideal body for gymnastics -- well-proportioned," he said. "But I think the most positive thing about Dominique is her personality. She's like a little bird, always a smile on her face. That's what is needed in the sport."
For Moceanu, the smile comes naturally. "I really enjoy competing, and I'm having fun," she said. "That's what it's all about. If that's what people remember me for, then that's great."
Moceanu is in perfect position heading into 1996. Because she is young, she is not under pressure to win. She needs only to perform well over the next year to be considered a top contender for the Olympic team and all-around title.
Although Moceanu could very well win the United States championships, Karolyi would prefer she remain in the shadows a bit longer.
"I don't want her to be great too early, and have that pressure like Kim did," he said, referring to Kim Zmeskal, who was a world champion at 15 but faltered in the Barcelona Olympics. "I want her to just have a solid competition, so we can build up. Slow, steady preparation, that's our strategy for '96."
Moceanu is mindful of her Romanian roots. She knows well the story of Nadia Comaneci, who is now a friend of hers. Moceanu's loyalties, however, lay elsewhere.
"I love the Romanian team, and I love Nadia, but I'm for the U.S.A.," she said. "I'm just doing the American thing."

8/17/1995 do not think she had much of a choice and I feal very sorry what she had to go thru and I also agree that there could be away to name the team after the trials.On the diet issue I understand they need to be on a strict diet but they also have to eat enough to stay healthy.


Her father sounds horrible! Imagine putting a 3 year old on a clothesline to see how long she could hold on! That's awful!!! I think the blame for her experience lies with her parents first and foremost. With obsession like that, they would not have done anything to help her even if she had complained. As for the Karolyis, they have a right to establish whatever training program they see fit. Parents do not HAVE to send their children to them if they don't like it. And for the diet, I really don't believe fruit and chicken are all Chellsie eats every day. Maybe that was all she had that day but I'm sure she drinks something and I'm sure she changes things up too. No one eats exactly the same thing day after day after day. Also, she may be on a more strict diet right now for training camp but it's probably not an all-the-time thing. Either way, I still believe its all in the choices. Dom could have quit but she (and her psycho parents) wanted to be an Olympian so she didn't. It was a choice.
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